Fire Management - Fire is serious but knowledge is power
About the Implementing organization
Name: Ya'axche Conservation Trust
Year of establishment: 1997
Type of organization: Community-based association or organization / Legally recognized non-profit status
The slash-and-burn farming technique often results in escaped wildfires since farmers have limited knowledge of proper fire management. Wildfires are a serious threat to protected areas, biodiversity, homes and livelihoods of other farmers. Some farmers, especially older farmers, are unable to change their farming habits because of their inability to establish or manage more resilient systems and can instead be encouraged to attend fire management trainings to learn how to minimize the risk of escaped fires when conducting agricultural burns. Ya’axché has been promoting proper fire management training to communities and is working with community members to encourage better practices when it comes to burning for agriculture. The trainings incorporate lessons such as fire behavior, use of proper equipment, and how to safely conduct a burn from start to finish, and include participation in demonstration burns to put the lessons into practice. Increasing the capacity of community and rural stakeholders to safely and responsibly manage agriculture fires allows farmers and other community members to be actively engaged in fire management and more responsible when utilizing fires for farming.
Type of Action
Protection / Sustainable use
Sustainable Development Element
Disaster risk reduction / Climate action
Over the past 17 years, approximately 45,428 acres of Toledo’s forests have been destroyed by escaped agricultural fires (Ya’axche 2015). Such fires have destroyed large acres of broadleaf forests, agriculture crops and homes across Belize especially after the occurrence of hurricanes, which cause large amounts of debris that serve as fuel. These fires are usually started by farmers and accidentally escape from farm clearings due to farmers’ limited knowledge in proper fire management techniques. Providing rural farmers with the knowledge and capacity to reduce the risk of escaped fires minimizes the rate of deforestation in the Toledo District caused by escaped fires. This benefits the environment by maintaining forest cover for carbon sequestration and ecosystem services as well as conserving habitat for biodiversity.
Sustainable Development Impacts
Disaster risk reduction
Due to farmers’ limited knowledge in fire management, fires escape and destroy hundreds of acres of land impacting biodiversity and human livelihoods. With proper fire management training, farmers develop the knowledge and skills necessary to use fire safely and wisely. Utilizing fire in a safe and effective way will have great social, economical and environmental benefits. There will be less destruction of homes and livelihoods by out-of-control fires which minimizes economic costs. Additionally, long term effects of fire on forests and water will be reduced and ecosystem services will be maintained.
As climate change results in longer, hotter dry seasons in Belize, there will be an increased risk that agricultural fires will escape. It is imperative that farmers who are unable to change their farming techniques, are engaged in proper fire management to decrease and minimize the number of escaped fires.
In Belize, fire management and the proper use of fire is described under the Agricultural Fires Act. The Southern Belize Fire Working Group helped develop the Wildland Fire Management Policy and Strategy for Belize which highlights the need for proper trainings and permitting for rural community members to properly utilize fire for agriculture. Once suitable and experienced trainers are available and there is access to proper equipment, fire management trainings can be properly implemented. Gaining support and buy-in from the community leaders will lead to higher levels of compliance with fire management regulations and more willingness from community members to cooperate on further fire management initiatives. This initiative is informing the development of a National Agroforestry Policy in partnership with the Belize Agriculture Department and is being scaled-up in other forest reserves in Belize with grant funding from the GEF Small Grants Programme.
Each year, wildfires burn millions of acres of forests around the world, causing the loss of human livelihoods, biodiversity and immense economic damage. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has coordinated the development of the Fire Management Voluntary Guidelines aimed at helping countries develop an integrated approach to fire management. The voluntary guidelines set out a framework of legally non-binding principles and internationally accepted strategic actions for fire management. Several countries such as Bolivia, United States and Australia have adopted a community based fire management approach to include local communities in the proper application of agricultural fires and prevention of wildfires. It is important to note that each country has different needs and potential and as such they need to recognize the special circumstances and requirements of their landscapes and people to effectively adopt and implement proper fire management.
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